Sophia The Witness That Could Not Be Silenced

Sophia: The Witness That Could Not Be Silenced

If ever there was a thorn in the flesh of Islam in her country it was “Sophia.”  We first met her at a self-made orphanage outside of Mogadishu during some of the worst months of the Civil War in Somalia.  We tracked her down through the unusual means of hearing children singing in a destroyed section of the capital city where there were no songs.  Over the years our lives have touched and crisscrossed through the tragedy which is the Somali people.

As the persecution increased in Mogadishu she escaped with her daughter, along with hundreds of other Somalis, to a neighboring country inside of a boat intended to transfer cattle from one country to another.  Once upon the high seas, those who could not produce an additional monetary rite of passage were callously thrown into the ocean.  Surviving such ordeals, Sophia found herself in a refugee camp among a people who were almost as dangerous to her faith as those in the country where she had recently fled.

While she was a stranger in a foreign country, we were able to discover that her children, long thought dead along with her husband, were still alive!  There were many efforts to reunite her with her children only to be told by her in-laws, “as long as she was a follower of Jesus, she would never be allowed to touch her children again.”

She was forced to marry someone within her deceased husband’s clan.  Submitting to this plan she chose to marry a man who was very interested in her faith in Christ.  Soon after her marriage she found herself pregnant once again.  She was known throughout her small-town as “that evil woman” whose witness was converting many Muslims to Jesus.  Through the status of her marriage and the strength of her witness, they could not silence her.

The day arrived when she was in labor with the child of her new husband.  There was a serious problem with the position of the baby so she went to the hospital for assistance from the professional medical community.  Quickly she befriended those in the hospital especially one medical orderly.

He was to be used by God to save her life.

As her contractions continued over an unhealthy length of time, this orderly heard a doctor and nurse discuss the case of Sophia’s pregnancy.  He heard them discussing that this woman had caused many people to turn to faith in Jesus Christ and all the attempts used to silence her had not been successful.  To his horror, this aide overheard the doctor and nurse consent to do nothing to help her, allowing her to die “normally” giving birth to her child, thus erasing such a witnessing thorn from the flesh of the community.

The orderly acted quickly with inspiration.  He went to a public phone and called the only believer he knew in the capital city of his country.  This believer quickly contacted a believing airline pilot with the national carrier who arranged to change his flight schedule with another pilot.  Flying immediately to this small desert city, the believing pilot left the airplane in the hands of his co-pilot, climbed into a bush taxi, rushed to the rural hospital, and found the believing sister, still painfully having contractions, lying untreated in the hospital.

He wrapped a blanket around Sophia, picked her from her bed-tubes intact, placed her in the taxi, took her back to his airplane, strapped her in a First Class seat, and flew her to the capital city.  Believers were waiting for the airplane and took her by ambulance to a local hospital where her son was successfully born by cesarean section 3 hours later.

Two days later I was able to visit with her.   I held this baby boy, another miracle child saved from the clutches of a modern day Pharaoh or Herod and their cronies.

Being a New Testament light in the midst of the Old Testament is never easy and it is always dangerous. Be prepared for evil yet never forget to watch for the miracle.

Making Disciples of Oral Learners

Making Disciples of Oral Learners

Those without Jesus should not be forced to become literate in order to be welcomed into God’s kingdom.

What is 1 of the top 3 challenges in modern missions?

Out of the 2.8 billion people on the planet that don’t know Christ – most have not one verse of the Bible, and not one song about heaven in their language. More than 80% of them cannot read or write a word.

We are equipping you with just literate tools to be pastors and teachers. We’re not equipping you to go in to the marketplaces of life. I’m talking about understanding that the Bible is equally the Word of God in both its content and its context. Jesus filled His heart, His soul, His mind with the Word of God so that when He went to the marketplace, He did not have to take a written note with Him, and He could reproduce the Old Testament by memory. He could tell the stories of God.

When we say that 83% of those without Christ who are oral learners or those who are illiterate, we are NOT saying they are a bunch of dummies. Oral peoples only have to hear something one time to own it! Literate peoples have to hear it seven times.

More than 80% of the unreached people in the world are oral communicators. By definition, that means they cannot read or write at a functional level. These people live in oral cultures.

While believers around the world long for the written Word of God, in a church planting movement, there is little time for literacy training or translation of Scripture. The written Word and the ability to read it are of absolute importance, but while these goals are being sought (through Bible translation and literacy training), the stories of the Bible are communicated orally. Taking the time to translate Scripture or taking the time to provide literacy training is a luxury that these rapidly growing movements cannot afford. Those without Jesus should not be forced to become literate in order to be welcomed into God’s kingdom. The need to share the gospel is immediate, so it is shared in the only way that it can be shared: orally. The point must be repeated; a literate Bible is indispensable. Yet those carrying the gospel to the nations must not wait ten to twenty years for the first printed Bible in an unengaged and unreached environment before broadly sowing the Good News.

We found the church in China, in particular, hungry for the written Word of God; at the same time, the church in China was not paralyzed by the absence of the written Word of God. Earlier in their movements, copies of the Bible are extremely rare, but Bible stories were known and repeated and memorized. Waiting for ten years (or more) for an initial Bible translation is simply not an option. By its nature and by necessity, the incipient movement is oral.

In many of the people groups that are without Jesus, illiteracy can be as high as 45 percent for the men and 90 percent for the women! That’s a significant challenge in the modern missions movement.

How can you be equipped today? Model the method of Jesus. Commit the stories of the Bible to heart. Internalize the Word of God in such a way that you can share it with your kids, your family, and those around you, orally. What you practice today will create a culture of oral learning that equips us to more effectively go, send, and pray for the nations and the 2.8 billion people around the world with little to no access to Jesus.

My Son Died Today

My Son Died Today

It was 25 years ago when I watched my 16-year-old son die in Nairobi, Kenya, as a result of a severe asthma attack.

His death on an Easter morning wounded the hearts of an entire community.

People asked me, How can God allow your son to die on Easter? You were only seeking to serve and praise Him among peoples unreached and untouched with the Gospel. How can a father handle watching his son die long before his child’s dreams could be realized?

I imagine God’s thoughts when Jesus died on the cross could have been similar to this:

My Son was a skilled carpenter, but I knew that He was made for something more than shaping wood with His hands. He was made for shaping lives with His words, with a touch or even with His tears.

His life’s work was that of doing the miraculous — He healed the sick, fed thousands, allowed those without worth and unclean to touch Him and to be touched by Him.

He could weep over the death of a friend and almost in the midst of a sob call him from the grave to life again. People were enamored with the miraculous things He said and did. A few people begin to discern that it wasn’t what He did that was miraculous.

The real truth, they began to discover, was not that He did miracles but that He was The Miracle.

Others feared what they did not understand. I saw my Son arrested and ridiculed. Their spit ran down His face, their jeers rang in His ears and their tools of torture caused blood to disfigure His countenance.

Cheers from the days before when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey turned to the jeering of a mob as they watched my Son drag His own cross up to a hill of death, where they raised His mutilated body, nailed upon a wooden cross, to the sky.

Today, I watched my son die.

The political and religious leaders of His day thought this was the end of the threat. Those who had followed Him believed their hope was dead, so they denied they had ever known Him. Both sides deeply believed this was the end of the story, this death, this killing of My son — once praised now, once and for all, crucified to death.

And here was everyone’s mistake, their misunderstanding. They believed that crucifixion was the end of the story, that death ended all things — the threat to the reigning government and the people’s hopes for an earthly Messiah.

Everyone was wrong. My Son was not to be defined by the waving palm leaves of the adoring multitude or by the shouts of the jeering crowd. Neither would He be defined by a crucifixion.

There was more to come — more to the story. This was my plan. The crucifixion by man was a prelude to the resurrection by the Father. I allowed and watched my Son die, to be crucified, to demonstrate my love and forgiveness for all people, for all times.

But I am not only a Father of love, I am a Father of power.

And while my love allowed for the crucifixion of my Son, my power would not allow Him to stay dead because I had determined that crucifixion was just the prelude to the resurrection.

For my family, the anniversary of my son’s death at Easter brings this bittersweet reminder — There is no shortcut, no easy way out, no way to avoid wounds made inevitable by living in a broken, imperfect world — but that isn’t the end of the story.

My family knows that this earthly life is just a prelude to the eternal life we can have through and with Christ because of His sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus’ crucifixion was for a moment in time. His resurrection is forever.

When Everything Feels Like Crucifixion

When Everything Seems Like Crucifixion

There was a time when our whole world was crucified.  There were about 150 converts from Islam in Somalia at the height of the famine.  They killed four of my best friends in one day.  They knew where they worked.  They stalked them, they followed them.  And they planned this out to the second.  And from 7:00 am to 7:45 am in one morning, they walked up to four of my best friends, put a gun to the back of their heads, blew their brains out, and threw their bodies away.  When we went to Somalia there were 150 believers.  When we were kicked out, there were only 4 left alive.  

That’s crucifixion.

We were feeding 50,000 people a day.  We were working with people who were traumatized. We were resettling refugees.  We were burying 20 children a day. Not a day went by when I did not ask of myself “What Sunday School class did I miss?  What sermon did I not listen to?”  Jesus gave us the perfect vision statement: “I’ve come to seek and to save those who are LOST”.  And He said He was going to accomplish that by sending you as sheep among wolves.  But everything I had up to that point prepared me to be a sheep among sheep.  When I got to where the wolves were in the majority, I didn’t know what to do.  We can tell you what it looks like to be in places where you and I and our ancestors have been disobedient for over 2000 years in not taking Christ to these places.  We’ve been where pagans have a Ph.D. in paganism.  We’ve found that evil has no bottom.

During the height of our feeding projects, we would sit around a table in the Ogaden, inside a warehouse full of food, medicines, and supplies.  People in the area were starving so quickly that when we went around the table and told each other where we were going that day, we were literally deciding who was going to live and who was going to die.

Everything around us always seemed like crucifixion.  

Maybe it’s timely to consider this as “Good” Friday approaches.  What do we do when everything around us only seems like crucifixion?    

We learned this lesson in Somalia: If Jesus is not the answer, there is no answer!  

Every day we walk by the lost, scattered, broken, abused, mistreated, and sinful.  Will we open our hearts and our minds to consider the thought: are you the one?  Are you the one to share the hope of the Resurrection with the one that passes you by?    

Are you willing for God to you pick up from an air-conditioned room and to put you on any frozen mountain top or any basement of the boiling hot desert? Are you willing to be the one in the cities and villages of this world?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are that one for somebody today. When everything seems like crucifixion, remember – there is always Resurrection in Jesus!    

Defined by What?

Defined by What? Reflections on a New Year

2020-2021 have not been my favorite years. Due to health issues and other reasons, we’ve had to return to America and settle in a country that has not been our home for over 35 years. Over these decades we’ve moved 28 times, immersed in languages that include Chewa, Xhosa, Swahili, Somali, while dabbling in Amharic and Arabic. What a shock that a country boy to have visited 80 countries!  We’ve owned, in those 35 years, one used car.  Our three sons were wondrous partners and have said to me, “Daddy, we’ve had the greatest lives that any kid could ever have.” In the core of our being we believe that God made us to live and serve in an overseas environment. 

 

Returning from living overseas after almost four decades, being introduced for the first time to a house mortgage and insurance, buying two vehicles and insurance, local, state, and federal taxes have caught me by surprise. It’s been the hardest adjustment in my life. Political realities and pandemic have added to my culture shock.

 

I’ve promised God that I’ll do better, honoring His investment in us, putting into practice in the U.S. much that He’s taught us, especially through believers and His church in persecution.  As an example, let me describe the environment which believers in East Asia live out their faith. When we first began to visit these believers we experience;

 

… When a woman became biologically able to bear children she was required by her government to have a pregnancy test monthly. If it was discovered that she was pregnant, without approval from the government, she was forced to abort the child immediately.

… If a woman wanted to travel from one province to another she was required to undergo another, more expensive pregnancy test to prove that she was not sneaking off to a place where she was not known, attempting to give birth illegally. If it was discovered that she was pregnant without approval from the government, she was forced to abort the child immediately.

… While in the equivalent of our high schools, one took aptitude tests through which the government would decide whether you went to university or technical school.

… Once in the assigned technical school or university it was decided by government officials, and further tests, what your major would be.

… Upon finishing technical school or university you were assigned where you would live and work, given your apartment, with your electricity and water provided by the government. You salary and benefits were not negotiable.

… Deciding to marry, a couple had to receive permission from their work supervisor before informing their parents.

… They could apply for permission from the government to have one (1) child. Their names were put on the list and they would have to wait their turn for permission to conceive and deliver a child.

… Failure to adhere to these rules could cost one the ability to work,  their place of residence, and could lead to serious fines and/or imprisonment.

 

 Therefore it should not surprise us that their government is seriously opposed to citizens following Jesus or adhering to any form of religious faith. It was heartbreaking to learn, when we first visited, that 40% of the leaders within the Christian faith were incarcerated in prison for three years. Surprisingly, the government was not necessarily opposed to Jesus. What they were opposed to was your freedom to choose your God. Their thinking was/is, that if you are free to choose your God, then by implication you are free to choose everything else; what school to go to, your major, where you want to live, what job to aspire, who you marry, and how many kids you choose to have.

 

 Given the truth of all the limits placed upon human life in East Asia one could be forgiven for assuming that following Jesus and gathering as His Body is all but impossible. In 1948/49 communists within this East Asian country sought to annihilate Christianity. There were approximately 400,000 Christians in East Asia within this period of history. They burned churches, turned them into beer halls and brothels. The government martyred pastors and missionaries. It was obvious that the government would not be content until the last church was destroyed and the last follower of Jesus eliminated. I remember reading an article in 1984,  that questioned, as this country seem to be opening up, would there be any Christians left alive inside of this country?

 

As minimum travel was allowed around this time it was discovered that the 400,000 followers of Jesus now numbered 10 million! After our last visit inside this country, conservative estimates are that Christians, gathered mostly in house churches of 30 or less, number, conservatively, around 85 million souls!

 

Friends, believers in Jesus the Christ, Americans. Hear the words of the Lord. The setting described above is much like the New Testament setting in which Jesus was born, lived, was crucified, and rose from the grave. It would be different, nuanced – but the setting described in East Asia would be familiar to Jewish and Gentile believers found in the New Testament. Occupied by the Roman Empire, while one had to pay taxes and be counted in a census, they could choose their government, serve in the police force or the military- let alone be protected by them. They could not vote or belong to a political party. They lived under Roman Law. Roman Law not only took away one’s ability to choose it could also travel to a small village called Bethlehem and murder all the male children under three years of age. The parents of these children had no recourse. They could not hire a lawyer and take these murderers to court. Their ability to choose the right to be human within their culture and government was severely hindered – almost nonexistent.

 

But they could choose to follow Jesus – and they did in their thousands. They were scattered throughout the known world. Yet they still chose to share their faith. Often the cost was great. They could choose to be like their Jesus. Galatians 5:22 described them and should describe us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” There’s another list in Galatians 5:19-21. It’s not a list of deeds, it’s also a list that defines your essence, who you are. It’s not a list you want to be on.

 

Honestly, we’re on one list or the other. It’s our choice.

 

This is my prayer for us in this New Year. May 2022 find us, who call ourselves Christians, people defined by our love for God and for one another. This is preferable than being consumed by politics or political parties; race and ethnicity. Sure, good government is important. Good governments can bring people together. But government alliances should not, and must not, distract God’s people from hungering for the One Whom we can never deserve. My unsettledness in returning to America isn’t due to taxes, a mortgage or political divisions. My discontent is failing to focus on Jesus, staying in His Word, and talking about Him. It’s in Him that true freedom, eternal freedom, is to be found.

 

I titled this article, “Defined by What?” That was a mistake.  I should’ve entitled this article “Defined by WHO?” Isn’t that more the issue as we embrace 2022?  

 

To love. To forgive. To trade anger for peace.  To choose joy. To be like Jesus.

4 Characteristics of a Missional Church

The 4 Characteristics of a Missional Church

Nik Ripken shares the 4 characteristics every church should have to be a missional church.

5 Responses to Evil

The 5 Responses to Evil

As followers of Jesus, allow me to remind us – we have chosen the side of good over evil. Nowhere is this clearer than in environments of persecution where, as one proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the price for doing so is increasingly costly (Revelation 2:10). While the battle with the Evil One certainly has physical manifestations, believers in persecution suggest that the deeper war is both internal & spiritual. Suggested here are 5 responses to evil for your consideration. These 5 responses increasingly represent a closer spiritual pilgrimage/walk with Jesus.

The first two responses to evil are quite universal.

Seemingly, the 1st two responses to evil are shared equally between the secular world and those of us who claim allegiance to Jesus the Christ. Dare I say this? Can this be true?

Sadly, most governments, organizations, churches, and sermons that struggle with persecution seldom lead us past these beginners’ responses to evil and the resulting persecution of followers of Jesus.

The last 3 of these 5 responses are overtly spiritual & represent, increasingly, being “in Christ.”
What makes followers of Jesus different from a secular NGO? How are we believers to be separate from the governments, militaries, and humanitarian organizations on this planet?

1. “God save me!”

This is very normal and understandable. It represents the first half of the prayer of Jesus (Matthew 26:36) in the garden before his crucifixion. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” If my family or I were in prison we would want scores of people to pray this prayer on our behalf!! I would certainly pray this prayer myself. Yet it only represents half of the prayer of Jesus in the garden. Almost in the same breath, we do not pray the second half of His prayer: “yet, not my will but your will be done.”

2. “God punish them.”

Our normal response to evil and its persecution is biblically anemic. We see persecution as abnormal and we call upon governments and militaries to rescue us from what God may be using for our own growth and His glory. Sometimes God needs Joseph in pharaoh’s prison for the salvation of the Egyptians & the Jews in Egypt. We must pray both halves of the prayer of Jesus including, “not my will, but yours be done.”

Calling on God to punish our enemies is a far cry from loving them. Followers of Jesus who refused to get stuck in the first two responses to evil could find themselves joining Jesus and Stephen in praying, “When did it become OK to die for one’s country, but not die for one’s Jesus?”

3. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This just might be the most un-American thought that I share with you. This response to evil recognizes that followers of Jesus can see themselves both as a target of satanic attack yet still victorious in their Savior. From Jesus on the cross and then Stephen in Acts 7:60 – even as the stones tore into his flesh – recognized that their persecutors were themselves victims in need of forgiveness as well as individuals responsible for their actions.

This response does not come easy. It is not the normal response of governments, militaries, or, sadly, the church. Such a response takes strength of soul and character seldom witnessed today. Seeking forgiveness for one’s enemies is counterintuitive, unpopular, and often seen as weakness.

Hating Muslims is popular. Calling Mohammed & Islam ugly names can elicit “amens” from many corners of the church. Greatness is measured by the size of one’s military, economic growth, and within democratic forms of government. Yet forgiving one’s enemies exemplifies a New Testament faith in a world defined by Old Testament responses and reactions.

As one continues to grow in Christ they may come to pray the most dangerous prayer possible,

4. “Father, forgive me as I forgive those who have sinned against me.”

Could there be a more dangerous prayer on the face of the earth for one’s soul? Are we willing to place our souls in jeopardy based upon whether or not we forgive our enemies? This is precisely how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

It’s quite popular to “fight fire with fire” within the world that is still defined by the Old Testament premise of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”. Tying our forgiveness by God to our forgiveness toward our enemies represents a growth, and a risk, in Christ that is otherworldly. It demands that we be defined by heaven on earth, acknowledging that living the Lord’s Prayer might just be the most dangerous thing one can ever attempt.

As we grow in Christ there is a response to evil that transcends all others as we pray:

5. “Father, today, glorify Yourself in me.”

This prayer makes a bold statement. It prays to God and proclaims to the world that political environments are not what define our faith. We are as free to share our faith in Christ in Saudi Arabia as we are in South Carolina. We are as free to share our faith in Christ in North Korea as in the Bible Belt of Southern America. No one can stop us from getting off of airplanes, out of buses, and cars from proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Persecutors can certainly punish us for sharing our faith, but by doing so, they help us to proclaim it all the more! If we don’t quit, if we don’t exit the fight at the entry level where we demand “God save me” and “God punish them,” we can grow into the fullness of Christ where we understand faith is not tied to political freedom but is about glorifying God – wherever.

Can we pray, “Lord from the time we rise this morning until the time we go to bed tonight we want everything we have said and done to have glorified you, our God.” If you ever accomplish this kind of growth in Jesus then the hard fight truly begins. Glorifying God is never a static achievement. Believers in persecution record how they have come to this place of glorifying God when they themselves were the focus of persecution. But, oh, how hard the battle becomes when evil attacks those we love; a wife, children, or the people of God for whom we love and have responsibility. It is so easy to become stuck at “God save those I love” and “punish those who harm them.”

Glorifying God, when the cross is borne by those we love, causes us to ask, “Is Jesus worth my life, the life of my wife, my kids, and those that I love?”

Afghanistan: How Must the Body of Christ Respond?

It’s hard to decide what to pray for first? This past week has brought to our local and global consciousness the escalation of COVID-19 in the USA, the earthquake in Haiti, and the unbelievable events in Afghanistan. For some, one of these events may be the most personal if one has lost a loved one to COVID-19 or has experienced personal tragedy in the earthquake in Haiti.

Yet it’s the speed at which the Taliban have regained control of all of Afghanistan that has shocked the world, both secular and sacred. Given the realities of this crucial moment of history, how must the Body of Christ respond? How can we focus our minds, actions, and hearts as human history unfolds in real time. First,

…God is the Lord of History. Since He experiences the past, present and future in equal measure, the events of these days have not caught Him off guard. We will continue to pray as Jesus taught us that His, “kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

…Afghanistan has possibly experienced more intentional, focused witness in the last 20 years, following 9/11, than in the preceding 2000 plus years. The opportunities for Afghans to hear, understand, and believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ flowed from believing, international workers from all walks of life. We owe these workers our love and support while acknowledging that their pain in being separated from the Afghan people is intense. Not a few of these workers gave their lives in Afghanistan. For Afghans.

…YET, as such obedient witness has been offered, many Afghans have believed. More than ever, the debt of prayer must be paid. For us, it is a time of focused prayer and fasting for believers who have chosen to stay in Afghanistan for the Gospel’s sake. They have always experienced being “sheep among wolves.” While we must pray for their safety, we should first pray for their obedience to remain in-country as fervent witnesses. Believers in persecution have consistently observed that the “quickest way to end their persecution is by winning their persecutors to Jesus.” Jesus healed the young boy, possessed by a demon, which often cast this child into the fire. When Jesus was asked by His disciples why they could not heal the young boy, He replied that such evil can only be defeated through “prayer and fasting.”

This is our time, our privilege to pray and fast for believers in Afghanistan, carrying them when, perhaps, they cannot carry themselves.

…It has often been said that “the one lesson that we learn from history, is that we don’t learn anything from history.” For centuries foreign governments and their armies have attempted to force change upon the Afghan people. The British invaded Afghanistan in 1839 with disastrous results, as did the Russians in the 1980s. Real change rarely originates from outside of a country’s border. Real change originates in the hearts and will of a country’s people.

…Further, we are brutally reminded that Afghanistan’s (and the world’s) issues DO NOT have a military or political solution. 20 years of intervention with an expenditure of approximately $1,000,000,000,000 ($1 trillion!) has not offered a solution. Jesus also spoke about this truth. He told of a demon being cast from a house. Though the house was cleansed, it was left empty. So the original evil spirit went and enlisted 7 spirits worse than himself to inhabit that cleansed house. Therefore this house’s final status was worse than the first. (My paraphrase of Luke 11:24-26). Ultimately, this is the same truth that all nations, all people, must acknowledge. No form of government, no might of arms, nor the most successful financial system can offer eternal life, eternal change. As one friend said, “If Jesus is not the answer, there is no answer.”

Praise be to God, Jesus is the answer!

Let us use this time to make a covenant grounded in obedience to God. Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the earth, making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20 ). We have not gone. Therefore, most of our world do not have enough of the Good News to replace their bad news. They do not have enough of a biblical witness today to find eternal life, eternal change, through Jesus. Shall we continue to sin against our world to the extent that there will always be another Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan on the global horizon? Will we leave the peoples of our earth without the love of Jesus, delivered through sacrificial witness? Let’s no longer burden governments and militaries with delivering patches for the problems of a lost world. Let’s lead, not follow.

The political, economic, and military world will continue to seek the means to advance their country’s ideology. Conversely, we as followers of Jesus must seek a place to kneel. Arising from the place of prayer will we not now go and do as Jesus commanded over 2000 years ago? Please, no more Afghanistans.

Remembering CM with great love and deep appreciation.

A Call to Missions

Over Spiritualizing A Call To Missions? The Church and the Great Commission

I can remember reading the Bible for the first time.  I came to Christ at 18 years of age in a Kraft Food’s cheese factory.  My father had negotiated a job for me at the factory the last nine weeks of my senior year in high school.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is I had to work nights those last nine weeks of my senior year in order to go to college.  I worked from 7 PM to 3:30 AM five days a week and never missed a day of school.  Of course I was too exhausted and I remember the embarrassing day when I went to sleep in an 8 AM chemistry class and woke up in a different chemistry class at 2 PM for another group of students!  I found out later that the teacher had threatened her other classes with death threats if they were not quiet in order to allow me to sleep after discovering that I was working nights in the factory to make enough money to go to college that fall.

One night as I was working by myself in a remote corner of that factory, I heard the voice of God speaking to me. I did not recognize His voice until the third time I heard Him speaking audibly in my ear and to my heart.  That night I gave my life and any career to the Almighty.  As a redneck from rural Kentucky all I knew about Christianity was that if you were saved and called by God you had to become a pastor.  I found this such a depressing thought because I felt that my salvation call would chain me to rural Kentucky churches the rest of my life.  I gave up a scholarship to the University of Kentucky and my lifelong dream to be a veterinarian.  Added to my despair was the discouragement I received from my parents, sometimes pastor, and peers to fulfill what I had heard God demand of me.

Finally I received semi-godly counsel from a young pastor in my rural county who took me to Lexington, Kentucky to visit a Christian bookstore.  There he helped me purchase a 7 pound, annotated, Scofield Bible-it looked like and weighed as if it was meant to be on a coffee table.  It had more footnotes than it had Bible.  He also purchased for me seven sermon outline books which severely hindered my ability to understand the Bible on my own and creatively develop messages that might have been worth listening to.

Once I arrived at college, and having announced that I was a pre-ministerial student, I felt the time had come to read the Bible.  I can remember reading Matthew chapter 28 and coming to what I would later be told was the Great Commission.  There I read these powerful words, “Go ye into all of the world.”  I was captivated by the thought that the Almighty had commanded us to go everywhere, at all times.  I confess I had no clue how to leave Kentucky, let alone go to other countries of the world.  So I sort of shelved this Go Ye into the back of my mind where I could retrieve this command if and when they became actually doable.  During my second year of college a doctor who had served as a sent out one for 20 years in Thailand spoke in a chapel.  As I listened to him, my heart soared with the possibilities of a different future.

I ran up to him after his devotional and asked him, “Do you mean to say that I can serve God anywhere in the world and your mission agency will pay me to do that?”  He laughed and said, “Well I have never been asked a question like that before but I guess the answer is yes.  We will pay you and you can take the gospel anywhere in the world.”  I said to him, “Where do I sign up?”  Amused he informed me that it wasn’t quite that easy, before sharing some of the hoops that I needed to work through before serving overseas was a possibility.

Finally the day came when now my wife and I were being interviewed by a mission board in regard to our service overseas.  Ruth is the epitome what mission boards would want in a candidate for overseas service.  She grew up in a pastor’s home.  She came to know Jesus at an early age.  In the sixth grade she wrote a class paper on Africa and knew then she wanted to spend her life in Africa.  She could articulate a call to missions second to none, and the interviewers were so deeply impressed with her.

Then they turned to me.

They asked me about my call to missions, and I simply replied, “I read Matthew 28.  They looked at me strangely and replied, “You don’t understand.  To be appointed by this mission board you have to have a special call to missions.” “You don’t understand,” I shot back at them, “I have read Matthew 28 which told me to go to all the world and I’m just trying to go.”  These kind, godly men, dressed in such immaculate suits proceeded to give me a 30 min. sermon on the concept of being called.  They shared about a call to salvation, a call to ministry, a call to missions, and then a fourth call to a special place in the world.  Then they looked at me with pride and asked me what I thought about what they had shared.  I was still naïve enough to think that when they asked me for my opinion that they actually expected me to reply!

So I looked at them and said, “It is my opinion that you Baptist have created a call to missions that allows you to be disobedient to what God has already commanded you to do.”

That went over really well.

I looked at my wife to discover tears slowly sliding down her cheeks.  I realized at that moment that these Baptists have a secret code or password that you must know in order to go on the mission field and no one had ever told me what that password was.  I thought that I had ruined my wife’s chance to fulfill her childhood dream of going to Africa and that the search committee would dismiss us as candidates for the mission field.

Now 28 years later I still believe the same thing.  Honestly I don’t believe there is a call to missions.  There is a command to missions.  No one who is a follower of Jesus gets to choose whether they are called or not.  We just get to choose, through sense of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, where God wants us to live out our witness at this time.  Being a daily witness for Jesus requires obedience to the command from Christ himself.  A calling to a specific place of service always follows the command to go to all the people groups in the world; whether across the street or across the globe.

Do you want to know if you are called to missions or not?  Read Matthew 28.

A Baptism Tip

A Baptism Tip with Nik Ripken

A baptism tip if you ever find yourself in East Africa.